Rick’s Real/Reel Life: Bette VS Miriam: “Old Acquaintance” 1943


Bette Davis & Miriam Hopkins toast each other at the end of “Old Acquaintance.” 
AFTER their two hour acting bout!

never saw 1943’s Old Acquaintance until
I wrote this essay—gasp!—but have caught
the famous shakedown scene between sparring stars Bette Davis and Miriam
tend to gravitate toward Davis in her “bad Bette” roles and this movie seemed soapy
and sappy. The WB film was based on the Broadway hit by John Van Druten, famed
for smart stage comedies, so I was pleasantly surprised. 

The famous moment from “Old Acquaintance.” Bette shakes Miriam like a Polaroid camera!

Old Acquaintance takes place over a near two decades in the
rocky course of Kit Marlowe and Millie Drake’s friendship. Davis’ Kit is a
smart, no-nonsense writer of critically acclaimed but commercially-challenged
books. Hopkins’ Millie, an indulged young wife, is forever competitive with
Kit. With her bestie’s help, Millie wants to be a published author, too.
However, the silly but steel-willed Millie wants to write commercial crowd-pleasers, and eventually succeeds.

Miriam Hopkins & Bette Davis as life-long friends & rivals in “Old Acquaintance.”

Over the years, Kit
becomes close to Millie’s husband Preston, and daughter Deirdre, which becomes
a bone of contention. Millie manages to wreck her marriage all by herself,
yet has no problem in trying to pin the blame on Kit. In the final act,
Millie’s husband plans to remarry, her daughter is a grown woman, and Kit has a
younger beau. All comes to a head when Millie discovers Preston professed his
love to Kit, and daughter Deirdre is in love with Kit’s young man. 

The roles of Kit and
Millie offer a field day for Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins. The stars were
re-teamed for Old Acquaintance after
their 1938 hit, The Old Maid. Once
again, Bette is the subdued, more sympathetic one, and Miriam is the glamorous gadfly.
Interestingly, these two movies were the biggest hits from Miriam Hopkins’
leading lady days. Hopkins has a ball as the high-strung trash novel writer.
Miriam’s performance as a comic bitch is much more on-target than Candice
Bergen’s hit-and-miss performance in the remake, Rich and Famous. Miriam’s kinetic energy is funny, yet fearsome. Hopkins, a bigger star during the first
half of the ‘30s, was also six years older than Davis, but now Bette was the
bigger star. However, Hopkins more than held her own in Old Acquaintance!

Art imitating life? Miriam Hopkins & Bette Davis dig deep into their psyches to play frenemies! 

As for Bette Davis, I
particularly enjoyed her relaxed performance as Kit in the character’s younger
years. An idealized portrait of the Davis persona, Kit is wryly humorous,
smart, straightforward, and sympathetic. Davis plays with restraint against
Hopkins’ dervish of a diva. This works for the movie and their performances.

Bette Davis as young Kit Marlowe in “Old Acquaintance.” If that name sounds familiar, it’s because that’s what Columbia’s Harry Cohn wanted to name Kim Novak!

While Bette has great
moments as the 40-something Kit, Davis turns rather first lady-ish, as critic
James Agee noted of her later WB performances. Bette snaps her lines as crisply
as when Margo Channing chomps that celery stick in All About Eve. Also, why would sensible Kit slather on more makeup
and sport a candy cane-style silver streak in her hair? Still, Bette has some
stellar scenes, as when Kit and the young beau are at cross purposes regarding
marriage. Davis’ finale with Hopkins, as they toast each other in friendship,
is genuinely satisfying. Some critics carped as to why these two women were
friends in the first place. Well, I’ve had some unlikely friendships that I’ve
sometimes questioned, too!

Shellacking Bette Davis with makeup and a silver streak seems out of
character for the older Kit Marlowe. With Gig Young.

I found Old Acquaintance’s story surprisingly
adult for the era, with some great lines, and plot turns. The one major beef I
have is with the last act. I realize older movies and plays had conventions
that were less than realistic. But Old
has one that’s just illogical: Kit puts off younger beau
Rudd’s marriage proposal. Rejected, he immediately is charmed by Deirdre, who
he has just called a spoiled brat. They now instantly fall in love. Beau goes
back to Kit, to tell her he will now marry Deirdre. And the young woman is hurt
when she finds out Rudd had planned to marry Kit. If the former romance was a
secret, I missed that plot point! If this had been presented gradually, it
would be more believable. 

Though Kit acts as a surrogate mother toward Dolores Moran’s Dierdre, she later is shocked that Gig Young’s Rudd was romancing Bette’s writer. John Loder at left.

John Loder as Preston
Drake is solid if not exciting; Delores Moran is decent as daughter Diedre, but
I can see why her career didn’t go anywhere. Anne Revere has a delicious bit as
a sharp reporter. I was shocked to find that Kit’s handsome young beau was Gig
Young. Just five years younger than Davis, Young is impossibly youthful and gorgeous;
a far cry from his later craggy good looks that were marred by alcoholism.

Gig Young was always distinguished, but I had no idea he was so handsome.

Vincent Sherman does
another good job with a “woman’s picture” as they were once called.
He keeps the episodic story moving and stylish, to boot. Sherman keeps the
ladies from chewing the scenery. I’m sure the WB director had his work cut out
for him, as this was Bette and Miriam’s acting bout all the way.

Bette Davis & Miriam Hopkins feud was thus publicized on their first film, “The Old Maid!”

Old Acquaintance is far superior to the dreary remake, 1981’s Rich and Famous. Star and producer
Jacqueline Bisset opted for the Davis role, with Candice Bergen cast as the
crass pulp writer. While Bisset is a subtle actress and Candice has a flair for
comedy, their remake felt even more old-fashioned than the original, despite the
sex scenes. Bisset’s writer isn’t just serious, but morose through much of the
movie. While Candice is often fun as the catty rival, Pauline Kael rightly
pegged Bergen as giving a drag queen performance and that Bisset’s character
is more of a gay male fantasy. I thought this watching Rich and Famous because it reminded me of criticism about Sex and the City. Perhaps this is because
gay men were at the helm of the respective productions?

All eyes back on Old Acquaintance: If you want to watch a
stylish comedy-drama, with two great stars creating sparks, Old Acquaintance is a great match. 


FYI: I put all the movie overflow on my public FB  movie

Check it out & join!  


Bette as older Kit in “Old Acquaintance.” Off-screen, Davis was working to form
the Stage Door Canteen, to benefit WWII troops.

Source : https://ricksrealreel.blogspot.com/2022/01/bette-vs-miriam-old-acquaintance-1943.html

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